Defense: No evidence of threat, force against ex-pastor

‘No evidence of threat, force’

against ex-pastor



YOUNGSTOWN — The rape charges against Dale Giffin, former pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Cornersburg, should be dismissed because they are vague and they lack the necessary element of physical force or threat, Giffin’s defense lawyer argues.

“The forcible element of rape requires evidence that the rape victim’s will was overcome by fear or duress,” argued J. Gerald Ingram, the former pastor’s defense lawyer, in his motion to dismiss the charges.

“There is no evidence of threat, force or compulsion,” he added.

The accuser is a female former Zion parishioner.

Although Ingram argues that the prosecution would force Giffin into a rape trial for having sex with a consenting adult, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, said, based on her investigation, that she finds the accusations against Giffin “very credible,” and that she does not believe the relationship was consensual.

A hearing on admissibility of evidence in this case is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday before Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Judge Evans is scheduled to preside over Giffin’s jury trial, which is to begin Oct. 19.

Giffin, 60, of Topaz Circle, Canfield, was pastor of the 2,327-member Cornersburg church for nearly 30 years until he resigned from that post and from the ministry last November.

Details of the charges

Giffin was indicted by the county grand jury in February on six counts of rape, each carrying a three-to-10-year prison term upon conviction. He pleaded innocent to the charges and remains free after posting $6,000 of his $60,000 bond.

The indictment accuses Giffin of raping the woman while she was a young adult parishioner between 1993 and 1996.

The offenses charged in the first three counts are alleged to have occurred sometime between March 9, 1993, and the end of that year; and the last three counts cover the years of 1994, 1995 and 1996, respectively. The accuser turned 18 in 1989.

Natasha K. Frenchko, assistant county prosecutor, says in a list of statements that supports the indictment that the alleged offenses occurred in the church and in Giffin’s car and residence.

“If the state is allowed to proceed with the case, the defendant would be forced to stand trial, for essentially his life, for having consensual sex with another adult,” Ingram argued in a court filing.

Although Ingram argues from a legal perspective, Bishop Eaton, whose synod includes Zion, said the church’s “zero-tolerance” policy requires removal from the clergy roster of any married minister who commits adultery and that she would remove any single pastor who has a sexual relationship with a parishioner.

Giffin, who is married and has two grown sons, denied to her all the allegations against him and denied to her that he ever had sexual relations with a woman who was not his wife, the bishop said.

Based on the allegations against him, Bishop Eaton said she asked for and received Giffin’s resignation from the pastorship at Zion. Giffin also resigned from the ELCA clergy roster, even though she did not ask him to do so, the bishop said.

No church trial

Giffin, who could not be reached to comment for this story, could have undergone a church trial before a panel of clergy and lay people concerning whether he should be removed from the ministry, but chose not to do so, Bishop Eaton said.

“The pastor always is the one who operates from a position of power in a relationship,” the bishop said. The relationship between a pastor and a parishioner is like those of a mental health therapist and client, or a teacher and student, where sex is inappropriate, she said. “It’s not an equal relationship.”

“It is the position of our church that, when a pastor violates his position of trust and authority, that that’s not tolerated, and that person can no longer serve as a pastor in this church,” the bishop said, adding “our ordained people make promises to set an example in holy living.”

“When that trust is abused and that position of authority is abused, it’s devastating to a congregation,’’ to the community and to the victim “who may never regain a sense of trust in the church and sometimes never even in God again,” the bishop said.

Giffin was “an authority figure,” and the alleged victim viewed him “as a father figure,” Frenchko said in the statements that support the indictment. Frenchko declined to be interviewed for this story.

The prosecution’s trial witness list includes the alleged victim, who now lives west of the Mississippi River; Bishop Eaton of Cuyahoga Falls; former Zion associate pastor Mark Williams, and his wife, Janeen, of Canfield; and two Mahoning County Children Services Board workers. No defense witness list has been filed.

Dawn Cantalamessa, assistant county prosecutor, alleged Giffin sexually abused the accuser beginning when she was 15.

But because the statute of limitations then in effect has expired, the charges in the indictment pertain only to crimes allegedly committed during the accuser’s young adulthood, Cantalamessa explained. Giffin used his status and position in the church to take advantage of the woman, Cantalamessa said.

The woman came forward with her allegations in August 2008, Cantalamessa said in an interview after Giffin’s indictment.

Giffin gave the woman a summer job at the church, helped her get into college and got her a job when she graduated, Cantalamessa said.

Bishop Eaton said she believes Cantalamessa’s statement that the relationship began when the accuser was a teenager, and the bishop said she is disappointed that Ohio has a statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors.

“We take very seriously that churches should be safe places for all people, and especially should be safe places for children,” Bishop Eaton said.

As to how she would react to any possible deal between the prosecution and defense, in which Giffin might avoid a court trial by agreeing to plead guilty to lesser charges, the bishop said only: “If he would admit to his guilt, I think that would be very helpful.”

Plea negotiations?

Ingram would not comment on whether plea negotiations are under way, but he said he now fully intends to defend against the charges in a trial.

As to whether Giffin would waive a jury trial and ask for a bench trial to the judge without a jury, Ingram would only say: “That is a matter that deserves some contemplation.”

If Giffin is guilty of the charges, the Rev. Charles Lundquist, a former part-time minister at Zion, said, “I would feel badly that one of our own pastors was guilty of breaching the ethics” of the church and breaching “a sacred trust.”

The Rev. Mr. Lundquist served Zion after he retired as pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Boardman. He said he was fired in January 2005 by Zion’s church council at Giffin’s recommendation because of complaints that he was “not a team player.”

Mr. Lundquist, who was ordained in 1954, continues to serve as a visiting pastor at various local Lutheran churches.

Accuser’s statement

As evidence of the lack of force or threat in the Giffin case, Ingram cites a statement the accuser gave to a county deputy sheriff, in which she said she never felt threatened by Giffin.

The alleged victim told the deputy Giffin never specifically told her not to tell anyone about their relationship, but he told her: “It’s OK to have secrets.”

When she questioned the propriety of their relationship, she quoted Giffin saying: “God made us this way, and I really believe that he wants us to feel good and to enjoy life.”

She said she got from the relationship a smart confidant and mentor, whose advice she appreciated.

The accuser said the relationship “tapered off” because she developed new, long-term friendships with others in college, which fulfilled her needs for advice and emotional support.

Besides his motion to dismiss, Ingram filed a motion to bar the prosecution from introducing in the trial any evidence concerning allegations against Giffin, which are not contained in the indictment.

Ingram said the prosecution’s allegations about Giffin’s relationship with the accuser before she turned 18 and about Giffin’s reported sexual relationships with two other female Zion parishioners, who aren’t listed as victims in the indictment, should be barred because they are irrelevant and prejudicial to Giffin.

Ingram also asked Judge Evans to conduct a confidential review of the secret grand jury transcript to determine whether the prosecution and law enforcement personnel properly instructed the grand jury concerning the legal definition of force or threat of force.

“This transcript will expose the lack of evidence or the incorrect statement of law. Either deficiency would establish that the key criminal element of force or threat of force is absent, requiring dismissal of this case,” Ingram concluded.


Minister’s responsibilities

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Visions and Expectations, Chapter 3, Page 13, as it applies to the responsibilities of a minister.

“Ordained ministers, whether married or single, are expected to uphold an understanding of marriage in their public ministry as well as in private life that is Biblically informed and consistent with the teachings of this church. Spouse and children, if any, are to be regarded with love, respect and commitment.

“Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. ...Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses.”

Source: Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Northeastern Ohio Synod, ELCA

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.